Matt Clark Shares Effective Time Management Skills For Focused, Meaningful Work that Impacts Long-Term Goals
Amazing.com co-founder, Matt Clark, is an entrepreneur who has set out to change others lives. He is passionate about helping people create better life circumstances through business. Amazing.com offers Seller Membership courses to help people build and scale their business. Through their flagship course, Amazing Selling Machine, Matt Clark and Amazing.com give individuals the tools and information they need to build their own successful physical product business by leveraging Amazon’s marketplace. (Visit Facebook to see Amazing.com reviews.) Clark graduated from the University of Houston, C.T. Bauer College of Business. He double majored, receiving a bachelor’s degree in both Finance and Entrepreneurship. Clark graduated Summa Cum Laude. Here Clark offers his expertise in effective time management and focusing on work that will impact your long-term goals.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about time management.
I’ve been through all the time management programs—everything from Getting Things Done and Tony Robbins to all different kinds of other books and blog posts. I’ve even researched what billionaires do to manage their own time.
I realized early on that building your own business makes time management different. When you’re working for a big company, someone else is telling you what to do with your time for the most part. They even give you a set of priorities. As soon as you start your own business, you have to decide what to do with your time. How effective you decide to spend your time directly impacts how your life will turn out.
The value of time management for anyone is incredibly important, but especially for people who own their own businesses. After all the time I’ve spent thinking about this, one of the few things that I’ve settled on is the idea of focus, especially in today’s age. Everyone talks about removing distractions, but I don’t think anyone actually does it. Even some of the most successful people I know are really terrible at focusing. It’s a strong competitive advantage to be able to focus. By focus I mean the mindset where you are willing to dedicate a chunk of time to something and that will be the only priority in your life for the amount of time you commit. Maybe that’s committing to something in business or maybe it’s something in your personal life.
If you commit to focusing on something for a set period of time, you have to make sure you remove every distraction. These distractions usually include some type of electronic or anything else that could possibly get in your way. For example, if you work at a desk and you have to have your computer, you have to make sure you’ve turned off every notification on every device. You’re not going to do anything effective on the computer if you keep getting ping notifications from your email, Slack, Skype, or whatever else you have going on in your computer.
The first step to eliminating distractions is to mute all of those things. Next, I clean off the desktop of my computer, removing all icons. I make sure I don’t have 72 thousand different browser tabs open. Beyond my computer, I reduce distractions from my cell phone. Cell phones should be silent if you’re really trying to focus on something. There’s actually been studies done that have shown that even if your phone is silent and off, but still at your desk, that’s enough to distract you and reduce your effectiveness and focus. I like to put my phone in a drawer or in another room. Then, I clear everything off the desk, creating the environment it takes to focus.
While you’re focusing, it’s important that you don’t let yourself get distracted, especially when your mind wanders and you want to look things up on the internet. If you do, you start off looking for something on the internet, an idea pops in your head, and all of the sudden you’re off doing something else that’s distracting you from the core of your work. The ability to do focused work and have a strategy and system in place is incredibly important. Most people don’t do it. Even ones that are semi successful. I think the ability to do that is huge.
An example that always comes to mind for me is Warren Buffet. He’s a guy that doesn’t even have a computer in his office. He has a phone, but a flip phone that’s 10 years old. His business partner, Charlie Munger, has said that Warren Buffet these days prides himself on basically having nothing on his calendar. Sometimes his calendar will be completely blank except for one thing like, “Tuesday, get a haircut.” That will literally be his entire calendar. For those of us that are far less successful than him, we feel the need to fill ourselves up with all kinds of distractions. Then we wonder why we’re not getting anywhere in life.
It’s really easy to get caught up in the idea that you’re doing work and so you’re actually being effective. It may seem like it’s stressful to check emails, Skype, Slack, or any mundane work that doesn’t require any brain power. You do that stuff and you think you’re putting in work. You think you’re working hard and being effective, but that stuff isn’t moving the needle at all. You’re just filling up time with stuff that makes you feel like you are doing more, but is actually more mentally taxing. Creating things, strategizing, thinking deep and hard, or researching things intentionally are the kind of things that are actually going to move the needle.
Going back and forth in a bunch of meaningless conversations on email and Skype are not the things that will move the needle in your life. Being honest with yourself about that can make a big impact in your life. One of the most important things is the ability to focus, remove distractions, and be honest with yourself about what is actually going to make a difference in the long term, and what’s not.
Once you realize all of that, you can create a good strategy for doing meaningful work. My typical schedule is doing 50 minutes of work completely undistracted, followed by a 10-minute break. Some days, I have meetings or maybe personal things going on, and I might only get one of those blocks in a day. Try to shoot for a least a few. I think if you can do two or three of those kinds of blocks a day, you’re probably going to be more effective with your time than 99% of other people.
The way I discovered all that was actually back in college. I was taking 18 hours a semester, working an internship, and really wanted to do well. I would basically lock myself in the library on the ninth floor, where they had cubicles and you had to be silent. I would study in blocks of time: 50 minutes studying with 10 minute breaks of walking around or listening to music. I did very well and I attribute that to the discipline I developed. I worked on my focus because I wanted to achieve that result. I think focusing is incredibly important.
Other than that, it’s a matter of sorting out what’s most important to you in life. People have million different ways of figuring this out: short term goals, long term goals, even medium term goals. After going through many iterations, I figured out clear long-term goals for myself. I asked myself, “What’s important to me?” For me, it’s things like building organizations or companies. That’s the kind of medium I want to have an impact through. Building organizations that have a solid impact on people and companies that create products that solve real problems is what is important to me. Whether that’s inside the company or outside the company.
It’s important to have the best health possible, in addition to living a life that’s fun and filled with joy. It’s not good to tread along and work yourself to death. I’ve been there and done that before. I don’t think it’s the best long term. I’ve mapped these things out and long term, this is more or less what I want to do. For me, at this point it’s less about some specific outcome. It’s not like I want to make X amount of money, help X amount of people, or have X health or fitness goal. To me, it’s more about the process. I’m going out there and I’m taking good care of my health, making good health decisions. I’m working hard every day to build a business that does good things inside and outside the company. There’s some research and anecdotal evidence that support that process, as opposed to being so focused on outcome.
John Wooden, the basketball coach from back in the day, won something like 11 or 12 NCAA titles. He started from some school that was not successful at all. They were playing in some dingy gym, then all of the sudden they were winning championship after championship. A lot of it was due to the focused process he put into place. Just for fun, he would write down what he wanted the team to accomplish, or what he thought they could accomplish over a year and he would put it in an envelope. It would include the number of games won, shots scored, and anything he could think of. He wouldn’t look the envelope for the entire season, because that’s not where he wanted to focus. His focus was more on the process side.
He thought about what the team was doing on a daily basis to actually make what he wrote down happen. Are they playing hard? Are practices designed in a way that allows them to focus and work as hard as possible? He would even train his people on how to put on their socks. He told them that if they did not put on their socks correctly, they could get blisters and blisters would reduce how hard they played. He would run through all the little details they could do on a daily basis. If you did all of those little things right, and lost, you still kind of won. It was still possible that his team could lose. There could be a team with an incredibly talented roster, but if they did all of that stuff and they won it was great. However, the outcome wasn’t what was important. What was important was the process of focusing on what he and his team could absolutely control.
I’ve taken the same approach with time management related things. I try to focus. If there is some outcome I want to achieve, maybe becoming a more successful company, I focus on the actual process that leads to that outcome. It’s easy to sit there and keep looking at the scoreboard, whether it’s your business or personal life. But, you could be spending that same time focusing on if you worked hard enough today, if you focused hard enough, if you put in the hours you said you were going to put in, or even if you focused on the hard stuff rather than the easy stuff. At the end of the day, that’s what ends up making the difference.
When it comes to organizing my time, I look at the long-term goals I want to achieve in every area of my life. By long-term, I mean about 10 years from now. That gives me a general idea of what I need to accomplish in three years, and then a year. I have an idea of long-term, medium-term, and short-term things I want to do. Then each month I pull off my annual list and say, “Okay, this month to accomplish what I said I’m going to accomplish this year, which helps me get to my long-term goals, what do I need to do to keep chipping away at that?”
Once I’m clear on that, I do that once a month to get a clear vision for the upcoming month. Each week I do the same thing, based on the monthly vision. I figure out what I need to do to chip away at my monthly objectives. Each day, I’m looking at that weekly list and making sure that I’m focusing on actually doing those things versus doing the things that just happen to be popping up. There is inevitably going to be things that just pop up. You could be driving to the store and then all of the sudden you get a flat tire. That’s something you have to deal with and it’s hard to focus on super long-term goals when you’re sitting on the side of the road with a flat tire.
Stuff happens, but this sort of structure and discipline has helped me focus on the long-term goals. I don’t get as caught up in the daily minutia. That’s an important distinction here. When it comes to the long-term things, what are the deeper values that are going to lead to the best success? For me, it’s typically pretty simple stuff. Am I treating people well? Am I delivering value in my business? Especially in business, things like focusing on a great product, great customer service, a great employee experience, instead of how much money you’re making, are the things that are going to help you have long-term success.
It’s true you need to focus on marketing and sales, but it’s important to make sure that each week and month you’re taking a chunk of your time and devoting it to the long-term stuff. This can pay off huge. Years ago, I was thinking about someone like Michael Jordan, had an epiphany and I thought that most people can accomplish anything in their life, as long as they focus. Meaning, they pick something and they don’t get distracted. They’re not trying to be the best in the world at seven different things.
They stick to one thing and they relentlessly focus on it. They persist. They keep learning and working hard. It’s inevitable that at some point things won’t go well and you’ll run into an issue. Focusing and persisting is the only way you’ll achieve anything. It’s the only reliable way you’ll achieve success. Some people get lucky, but who cares? You can’t bank on that happening. What you can bank on is focusing on the fundamental stuff, which is focusing, actually persisting, and working hard all the way to the end. If you look at people that have been incredibly successful, they are maniacal about their focus.
Albert Einstein is someone we all look up to as this genius, someone who had a massive impact on the world. If you read deeper into his personal life, you’ll find he had kids that didn’t talk to him. He has wives that he told weren’t allowed to touch him or speak with him. He was pretty terrible to his family, because he was so focused on his work. I think you have to be willing to make a trade off there. There is value in focusing, but at some point, you have to be willing to decide what is most important to you. Do you care about achieving some sort of goal more than anything? If so, it’s going to require a lot of focus, but I don’t think it always has to require sacrificing your family.
There’s plenty examples of people who haven’t done that. You’re going to make some hard decision. If you are trying to achieve big things in life, you don’t have three hours a day to watch TV or two hours to play around on Facebook. Do make some time to recharge, because that does help but you have to be willing to spend your time intentionally and understand the long-term impact of that.
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